1 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The Good Childhood Report 2014
3 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction 3
5 Foreword 5 The Children s Society has been supporting children s well-being for over a century, putting their voices right at the very heart of our work. Children s well-being is so important not just for children themselves and the adults they become, but because it serves as a reflection on the place we hold for children in society. Well-being is about so much more than happiness, going right to the very heart of a good quality of life. And a real understanding of wellbeing must also take into account the factors associated with it; the potential drivers. Children with low well-being are not grumpy teenagers experiencing the everyday ups and downs of growing up. Our research highlights stubborn and persistent issues of bullying, insecurity and anxiety; children growing up with little hope for their future. The good news is that the majority of children in this country continue to be satisfied with their lives. Yet around 9% of children aged eight to 15 years have low life satisfaction which is a statistic none of us can afford to ignore. Our annual stateof-the-nation report on children s well-being seeks to understand more about this. This year s report confirms gender variations in well-being with girls showing lower levels overall often driven by concerns with the way they look. It also shows that the ages of 14 and 15 continue to be the ages of lowest well-being. In this year s report, our third annual Good Childhood Report, we explore new work on the relationship between parents and their children s well-being and highlight new international evidence that shows the UK is behind the majority of countries in terms of children s well-being. We are proud that our research with the University of York has become one of the most extensive programmes on children s wellbeing conducted globally. Our surveys of over 50,000 children have helped draw attention to important trends. Today, as always, we are ambitious for all children. In a period where the impact of austerity measures are disproportionately affecting low income families with children, it is critical to keep focused on how young people are faring. We are determined, through our campaigning, commitment and care, to give every child the greatest possible chance in life. Matthew Reed Chief Executive The Children s Society
6 6 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction
7 Contents 7 Foreword 1 Introduction p9 Part one 2 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations p15 3 Trends in child subjective well-being over time p23 4 Trends across countries p29 Part two 5 Factors associated with children s subjective well-being: What children do p33 6 Factors associated with children s subjective well-being: What children have p41 7 Factors associated with children s subjective well-being: Parental well-being, mental health and physical health p51 8 Factors associated with children s subjective well-being: Parents p57 Conclusion 9 Concluding comments p63 10 References p68
8 8 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction
9 1. Introduction 9 The Good Childhood Report 2014 is the third in a series of annual reports published by The Children s Society about how children in the UK feel about their lives. This year s report contains new findings from our nine-year programme of research on children s well-being, involving around 50,000 children. This work is carried out in collaboration with the University of York and has become the most extensive national research programme on children s subjective well-being in the world. The objective of each report is to focus on children s subjective wellbeing, drawing on the most recent evidence available for the UK, plus some comparative findings from other countries. Figure 1: Low well-being and associated issues Feels there are people who support them Has been bullied more than three times in the past three months Does not have enough friends Does not feel safe at home Family does not get along well together Feels their life has a sense of purpose Does not look forward to going to school Does not feel free to express their opinions Likes the way they look Low well-being At the same time, the report provides an opportunity to place our new findings within the context of what we have learned from our well-being research programme since it began in The previous reports have covered a wide range of topics in relation to children s subjective well-being and some key findings from these reports are presented in Box 2. In last year s report we presented a chart illustrating what life is like for children with low subjective wellbeing. This summarises many of the themes covered in our research programme to date, and so we have reproduced this chart as Figure 1. Average to high well-being Has a lot less money than their friends 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% % of children Box 1: What is subjective well-being? Subjective well-being is a person s own evaluation of how they feel about their lives. It is often thought of as consisting of two components. The first component is about how satisfied people are either with their life as a whole or about particular aspects of their life (e.g. family relationships). The second component focuses more on people s day-to-day moods and emotions (e.g. feelings of happiness). There is also a related concept of psychological well-being. This incorporates a number of different aspects (e.g. sense of autonomy and sense of purpose in life). Whilst we recognise the importance of this concept, this report focuses on subjective wellbeing (satisfaction and emotions) because at present most of the surveys we analyse ask about this. Often subjective well-being questions use a scale, such as from 0 to 10, which people can use to say how satisfied or happy they are. Many of the questions we have asked of children have been in this format. In this report we use the term low subjective well-being, usually focusing on the children with the lowest scores for subjective well-being questions. Reproduced from The Good Childhood Report 2013
10 10 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction Box 2: Previous findings from our research on children s subjective well-being Around 9% of children in the UK aged eight to 15 years have low life satisfaction. Using other measures of subjective wellbeing the proportion is between 5% and 10%. Children s subjective wellbeing varies considerably with age. Around 4% of eight-yearolds have low life satisfaction compared with around 14% of 15-year-olds. It appears that ages 14 to 15 represent a low point for subjective well-being and that there are slightly higher levels of well-being for young people in the 16 to 17 age group. From analysis of The Good Childhood Index we know that children feel much happier about some of aspects of their lives such as family relationships, than others such as the way that they look. Children s satisfaction with some of these aspects varies considerably between the ages of eight and 15 and by gender. The Good Childhood Index was developed by The Children s Society and includes 10 questions asking about different aspects of life that children have told us are particularly important for their well-being. 20% of the variation. A second important factor highlighted by our research is children s satisfaction with the amount of choice they have in their lives, which consistently emerges as having a strong link with their sense of well-being. While household income has a small (albeit significant) association with children s subjective well-being, other measures of children s material circumstances show a much stronger association, explaining as much as 9% of the variation in their subjective well-being. There is some evidence of gender variations in subjective wellbeing, with girls often tending to have slightly lower well-being than boys. Socio-demographic factors, such as household income or family structure are often significantly associated with subjective wellbeing but only explain a relatively small amount of the variations in subjective well-being between children. The quality of family relationships emerges as one of the most important influences on children s subjective well-being. For example, children living with both birth parents tend to have slightly higher well-being than children living in other family arrangements, but again this factor only explains around 2% of the variation in subjective well-being, while a simple question about quality of family relationships explained around Events in children s lives can have an impact on their wellbeing. Recent changes in family structure, for example, are linked with significantly lower than average well-being. Recent experiences of being bullied also appear to have a substantial impact on children s subjective well-being. 1 Where possible we make use of data for the whole of the UK for example from the Millennium Cohort Study. However some of the analysis in the report only covers England, Scotland and Wales, and other analysis only covers England. Please refer to Box 3 on data sources, and the information on data sources contained underneath each figure and table presented in the report.
11 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction Overview of the 2014 report and key findings This report makes a timely addition to ongoing debates about the wellbeing of children in the UK, and is split into two broad themes. The first part of the report presents an updated picture of overall levels of subjective well-being in the UK 1. We: Provide new findings on overall levels of subjective well-being Analyse new data on how children s subjective well-being varies according to individual and household characteristics Update and expand our time trends analysis using the latest evidence Present new findings on how children s subjective well-being varies between countries. The second part of the report looks at new evidence on four different factors that are associated with children s subjective well-being: Children s activities and behaviours Material conditions deprivation, relative wealth and changes over time. Parental subjective well-being and mental health Parenting behaviours. Some key findings on these topics are as follows: Children in England are faring slightly less well in terms of subjective well-being than children in the other nations of the UK; and children in England are faring poorly in terms of subjective well-being compared to other countries within and outside Europe, ranking ninth out of 11 countries surveyed. Children in England fare particularly poorly in terms of satisfaction with the way they look, compared to children in a sample of other countries around the world. This finding supplements other evidence of a significant age-related decline in satisfaction with this aspect of life in England, especially for girls. There is some evidence of a gender gap developing recently in children s subjective well-being in the UK, with girls tending to have lower well-being than boys. The pattern of increases in children s subjective well-being seen during the late 1990s and early 2000s has ended and, in the period 2008 to 2011 (the most recent years for which time trend data is available) levels of children s subjective well-being appear to have plateaued (neither increasing nor decreasing). There are associations between how children spend their time and their subjective well-being. Children who participate more often in sports and related activities tend to have higher well-being. On the other hand, our analysis finds no evidence of a negative association between use of computer technology and subjective well-being. In fact, children aged 11 years old who engaged in this activity relatively frequently were significantly more satisfied and happy with their lives than children who never did so. Children who have fewer material resources than their peers have lower than average well-being. But those those who felt they have about the same resources tended to have slightly higher well-being than those who felt their families had more.
12 12 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction There are indications that the recession is impacting children s well-being those who perceive their families as having been impacted by the economic crisis have lower well-being. There are significant links between children s levels of subjective well-being and that of their parents. There is also evidence of a link between parental mental health problems and lower levels of child subjective well-being. There is evidence of a significant association between parenting behaviours and children s subjective well-being. Young people aged 14 to 15 whose parents more frequently provided emotional support, physical care, educational support and supervisory monitoring tended to have higher levels of subjective well-being. Of these factors, the availability of emotional support seemed to make the most difference for this age group. 1.2 Notes on data sources and statistics Data sources The report makes use of the best and most up-to-date evidence available on children s subjective well-being. Much of this data comes from our own research programme, including participation in the international Children s Worlds survey. However, we also make use of available data from other sources including two major UK studies Understanding Society and the Millennium Cohort Study. More information on each of the data sources used is provided in Box Statistical testing We have used a range of appropriate statistical tests to support the findings presented in this report. All comparisons highlighted in the report (e.g. gender differences) are based on accepted tests of statistical significance using a 99% confidence level unless otherwise stated. Weighted data sets have been used for analysis of the Children s Worlds survey and Millennium Cohort Study. Because this is a non-technical report we have avoided using technical language regarding these tests in the main text, although some basic explanatory information is sometimes provided in footnotes and appendix. Further details on the technical aspects of the research are available from The Children s Society s Research Team (see contact details at the end of the report).
13 The Good Childhood Report 2014 Introduction 13 Box 3: Data sources used in this report The main data sources that we have analysed for this report are as follows: Children s Worlds survey (See for further details) Children s Worlds is a new international survey of children s well-being. The survey aims to collect solid and representative data on children s lives and daily activities, their time use and in particular on how they feel about and evaluate their lives (and specific aspects of their lives). Some of the data used in this report are from a large-scale pilot of the survey conducted with over 16,000 children aged around 12 years old in 11 countries across five continents. Other data are from the England component of the first full wave of the survey in 2013/14. The survey in England covered a representative sample of over 3000 children in Years 4, 6 and 8 in schools. We also conducted the survey with an additional sample of around 1000 children in Year 10, which is referred to as The Children s Society survey British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and Understanding Society (See and ac.uk/about for further details) The BHPS was a longitudinal study consisting originally of a sample of 5500 households in Britain running from 1991 to It subsequently became part of a new ongoing longitudinal study called Understanding Society covering 40,000 households. From 1994 the BHPS incorporated a youth questionnaire for children aged 11 to 15 which include some questions on subjective well-being. These questions have been continued with children aged 10 to 15 in the Understanding Society survey. Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) (See for further details) The MCS is a survey following the lives of around 19,000 children born in the UK in 2000 to So far, five waves of the survey have been carried out when children were around the ages of nine months, three years, five years, seven years and 11 years. The data analysed for this report are from the fifth wave when the children were aged 11. We make use of information about subjective wellbeing and about various aspects of their lives provided by children and also some information gathered from their parents and teachers. In addition to the above we also cite some findings on subjective wellbeing from the Health Behaviour of School-aged Children study (HBSC). The Children s Society quarterly surveys The Children s Society has conducted household surveys in England with both parents and children aged eight to 15 since These were initially conducted every three months, and are now conducted every six months. In these surveys, we ask questions about the well-being of both parents and children. The surveys also offer a chance to collect data on children s well-being together with data on the household, such as income and occupation of the parents or carers. The survey covers 2000 households in England, Scotland and Wales, and is socioeconomically representative of these countries. Children s quotes from consultations The Children s Society conducts well-being consultations with children and young people in various locations. These consultations usually consist of a well-being survey followed by a face-to-face group session in which survey findings are interrogated and explored. Recent consultations have taken place in Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, Frome and Cheshire East, and have included over 20,000 children and young people. Quotes from these group sessions can be found throughout the report to illustrate the statistical points further. To learn more about our well-being consultations, please contact us at: childrenssociety.org.uk
14 14 Part one We present an update on overall levels of children s subjective well-being in the UK and how we compare to other countries around the world.
15 2. The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations Children s overall levels of subjective well-being In previous issues of The Good Childhood Report, we have presented findings on different aspects of children s subjective well-being including satisfaction and happiness with life as a whole and day-to-day feelings. Here we present updated findings on these aspects using new data from the Children s Worlds survey in England with children in Year 6 (10 to 11 years old) and 8 (12 to 13 years old). Box 4 shows the questions used in this survey to cover subjective well-being: Satisfaction with life as a whole In line with our previous work, we found that children tended to rate their life satisfaction quite highly. Children in Years 6 and 8 scored a mean of 8.5 out of 10 on the life satisfaction scale, while around 7% of children in this age group had low life satisfaction (less than five out of 10). There were age patterns here the percentages of children with Box 4: Questions on subjective well-being (Children s Worlds survey) Life satisfaction 2 Here are five sentences about how you feel about your life as a whole. Please tick a box to say how much you agree with each of the sentences: My life is going well My life is just right I have a good life I have what I want in life The things in my life are excellent Response options are on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 = Not at all agree and 10 = Totally agree. The life satisfaction score is created by adding up answers to the five questions and then dividing the total by five to obtain a score from 0 to 10. Day to day feelings Below is a list of words that describe different feelings and emotions. Please read each word and then tick a box to say how much you have felt this way during the last two weeks. Satisfied Happy Relaxed Active Calm Full of energy Response options are on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 = Not at all and 10 = Extremely. low life satisfaction were around 6% for Year 6 and around 8.5% for Year 8. However there was no statistical difference in life satisfaction between girls and boys Day-to-day feelings Children also reported mostly relatively high levels of recent positive moods and feelings. Mean scores for the six questions asked (see Box 4) ranged from 8.6 out of 10 for happy and full of energy to 7.9 out of 10 for calm. There was a significant age difference for all of these measures and the differences were strongest for feeling full of energy which declined from a mean score of 8.9 out of 10 in Year 6 to 8.2 out of 10 in Year 8. There were also significant gender differences for all of these questions, with boys tending to have higher mean scores than girls, except the question about feeling calm for which there was no significant gender difference. 2.2 Variations in children s subjective well-being So far we have looked at the evidence on children s overall subjective well-being and variations by age and between girls and boys. It is also important to look at variations according to other individual and family factors as we may be able to identify particular sub-groups of the child population with much higher or lower than average levels of subjective well-being. 2 These questions were derived from a longer set originally devised by Huebner (1991).
16 16 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations Table 1: Summary of mean scores for different measures of subjective well-being by age group and gender All Year 6 Year 8 Female Male Life satisfaction score Satisfied Happy Relaxed Calm Active Full of energy Source: Children s Worlds Survey, Age: 10 to 13 years old. Scope: England. Sample size: Figure 2: Summary of life satisfaction scores (MCS) % of children 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% 0 to 3 4 to 6 Low well-being 7 to 9 10 to to to to to 24 Life satisfaction score (0 to 36) Source: Millennium Cohort Study, Wave 5, Age: 11 years old. Scope: UK. Sample size: 13, to to to to 36 The newly-published data for children aged around 11 years old from the Millennium Cohort Study enable us to do this. It contains measures of children s satisfaction with their lives as a whole and with some aspects of their lives and we have used this to create an overall life satisfaction score from 0 to 36, with higher scores signifying higher subjective well-being. Figure 2 shows the distribution of life satisfaction scores using this measure. It can be seen that most children are relatively satisfied with their lives. Around 10% of children scored less than 22 out of 36 and, in the analysis that follows, we classify these children as having low subjective well-being using this measure. The survey also includes data on children s country of residence within the UK, their household income, parental employment status and family structure. This enables us to compare variation in overall subjective well-being according to these factors. Table 2 shows the mean life satisfaction scores and proportions of children with low life satisfaction for each group. The key differences here are as follows: There was no difference in the overall (mean) life satisfaction score for girls and boys. In the UK, children in England have the lowest mean subjective well-being. Children in Northern Ireland have the highest
17 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations 17 Table 2: Variations in overall subjective well-being MCS Gender Mean life satisfaction (out of 36) % with low life satisfaction Boy % Girl % Country England % Wales % Scotland % Northern Ireland % Equivalent income quintile Bottom % Second % Third % Fourth % Top % Poverty Above <60% median threshold % Below <60% median threshold % Family type Both natural parents % Mother and step parent % Father and step parent % Lone mother % Lone father % Other % Parental employment Both in work % Main in work, partner not % Partner in work, main not % Both not in work % Main in work or on leave, no partner % Main not in work nor on leave, no partner % Source: Millennium Cohort Study, Wave 5, Age: 11 years old. Scope: UK. Sample size: 13,469.
18 18 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations well-being and the smallest proportion of children with low subjective well-being. Mean subjective well-being in Northern Ireland is significantly higher than in England but not significantly higher than in Scotland and Wales. Children in families in the bottom two equivalent income quintiles have lower mean subjective wellbeing and are also more likely to be in the low subjective wellbeing group. This is also the case for children living in families with incomes below the poverty line (i.e. equivalent net income is less than 60% of the median income). As reported in previous years, children living with both birth parents have higher levels of wellbeing than children living in other family arrangements. Children living with neither of their birth parents have the lowest mean well-being. Previous analysis (Rees et al, 2010a; The Children s Society, 2012) has shown that the quality of relationships explains 10 times more of the variation in overall well-being than family structure. Children who agree that their family get along well together have higher well-being irrespective of family structure. Where children disagreed that their family got on well together, their level of overall well-being was lower and virtually identical, no matter who they lived with. Children with one parent in employment have the highest mean well-being though the differences between them and those with two earners is very small. Within households with two parents/carers anyone with an earning parent has higher mean well-being than where both are unemployed. The lowest well-being can be found where children are in lone parent families without employment. Of course all these factors overlap and interact. When we analyse them together 3 they explain just over 2% of the variation in child subjective well-being. So, although there are differences between children in the sub-groups considered in Table 2, the types of factors considered country, household income, parental employment and family structure do not help us a lot in understanding why some children have much higher or lower subjective well-being than others. However, we have shown in previous reports that measures of poverty and material deprivation based on children s direct experiences rather than household income show much stronger associations with their subjective well-being. We present some new findings related to this issue in a later section of the report. 2.3 Children s satisfaction with different aspects of their lives In previous editions of The Good Childhood Report we have summarised children s satisfaction with 10 domains included in The Good Childhood Index. These are aspects of life that we have identified as being important through consultation with children (The Children s Society, 2008) and analysis of survey findings (Rees et al, 2010b). For each aspect of life, children are asked to rate their satisfaction on a 0 10 scale 4. We have shown previously that: Children s satisfaction with these different aspects of life varies considerably, with the highest levels of satisfaction tending to be with home, family and friends; and the lowest levels of satisfaction tending to be with appearance and the future. Some aspects of life such as satisfaction with family and amount of choice are more strongly associated with overall well-being than others such as satisfaction with friends. There are some significant gender variations in satisfactions with certain aspects of life. In particular girls are much less satisfied than boys with the way that they look, particularly as they get older. 3 Using multiple regression analysis 4 In The Children s Worlds survey, the end points of this scale were labelled as Not at all happy and Completely happy. This is a slight change from previous versions of the index (previously Completely unhappy to Completely happy to bring the wording in line with that used in other countries in the Children s Worlds project. Our analysis suggests that this change of wording does not appear to have had a substantial effect on children s responses to the index questions.
19 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations 19 There are also other age patterns. Satisfaction with friends changes relatively little across the age range from eight to 15 years old, whereas satisfaction with school and appearance drop significantly as children get older. In this section we present the latest data on The Good Childhood Index, using the wave of the Children s Worlds survey which was carried out in England in late 2013 and early 2014 with children in Year 6 (10 to 11 years old) and Year 8 (12 to 13 years old). Broadly speaking these new findings are consistent with previous research. Figure 3 shows mean scores in each of these domains for the Children s Worlds survey. Children reported the highest levels of satisfaction with money and possessions and with their relationships with their families; and the lowest levels of satisfaction (by quite a margin) with their appearance. Considering the proportion of children with low well-being (defined as a score of four or less out of 10) on each of The Good Childhood Index domains, we found a similar (but not identical) pattern, shown in Figure 4. The domain with the smallest proportion of children with low well-being was money and things, with 2%, and the domain with the largest proportion was appearance, with 13%. Figure 3: Mean scores on The Good Childhood Index domains Mean well-being score (out of 10) Money & things Family Home Source: Children s Worlds Survey, Age: 10 to 13 years old. Scope: England. Sample size: 2,276. Friends Figure 4: Proportion of children with low well-being for The Good Childhood Index domains % of children with low well-being 15% 12% 9% 6% 3% 0% Money & things Family Home Friends Health Health Choice Choice Time use Time use School School Future Future Appearance Appearance Source: Children s Worlds Survey, Age: 10 to 13 years old. Scope: England. Sample size: 2,276
20 20 The Good Childhood Report 2014 The current state of children s subjective well-being: Overview and variations If you don t feel good about yourself you go in a bad mood and sometimes you don t want to eat Year 8 student (girl) Figure 5: Gender differences for The Good Childhood Index % of chidlren with low well-being 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% Money & things Girls Boys Family Home Source: Children s Worlds Survey, Age: 10 to 13 years old. Scope: England. Sample size: 2276 Figure 6: Age differences for The Good Childhood Index 20% 10 to 11 year olds 12 to 13 year olds Friends Health Choice Time use School Future Appearance There were significant gender differences for some of these domains (Figure 5). The most notable difference was for appearance girls were twice as likely (18%) to have low well-being with this aspect of their life as boys (9%). The second strongest difference was feelings about the future, in relation to which 7% of boys and 9% of girls had low well-being 5. There were also differences based on children s ages (between the two age groups 10 to 11 years old and 12 to 13 years old) (Figure 6). Again, the differences for appearance were the most striking, with 9% of children aged 10 to 11 having low well-being in this aspect of their life, compared to 17% of children aged 12 to 13. As we will see below, appearance is also an issue where there are important patterns in time trends and in international comparisons. % of chidlren with low well-being 15% 10% 5% 0% Money & things Family Home Source: Children s Worlds Survey, Age: 10 to 13 years old. Scope: England. Sample size: Differences were established using chi square tests; n for all=1692. Friends Health Choice Time use School Future Appearance Data from the Millennium Cohort Study also enables us to look at gender differences for some aspects of life for children aged 11 in the UK, here using a scale from 0 to 6 (Figure 7). Girls were more satisfied than boys regarding school work and school. However they were less satisfied about their appearance, which is consistent with the results from the Children s Worlds survey presented above. Data from children aged 10 to 15 in the most recent wave of the Understanding Society survey, focusing on the same five aspects of life, also broadly confirm this